ArtVan’s history began with a woman, Jamie Silvestri, who aspired to bring art therapy to her local community in a colorful painted van. In 2004, the Director of the Bath (Maine) Recreation Department and expressive art therapist Jamie Silvestri noticed an increase in scholarship assistance requests for afterschool and summer recreation activities, as well as a lack of arts programming in city schools. Along with the City of Bath Community Development Office, they worked together to assess poverty issues facing many Bath families. They applied for a Community Development Block Grant, which they were awarded, to launch the ArtVan as an eight-week summer pilot project bringing no-cost arts to two low-income Bath housing developments, one low-income senior home, a day treatment center for learning disabled adults, and a homeless teen shelter. In the eight weeks, ArtVan’s work proved successful with all these populations.Because the other groups did have some activities available to them, ArtVan decided to continue its work with low-income neighborhoods, with the mission of enriching the lives of youth who did not have access to recreational activities. ArtVan has continued to provide its art therapy services to the low-income neighborhoods of Maritime Apartments and Hyde Park in Bath, ME since that point.
During 2006-2007, ArtVan expanded to the low-income, subsidized housing neighborhoods of the “Tree Streets” in Lewiston, two developments in Auburn, Perryman Village in Brunswick, and the Bacon Street neighborhood in Biddeford. In June 2011, after six years of successful programming through valuable fiscal sponsorship relations ArtVan incorporated as a non-profit in the State of Maine and received its independent 501(c)(3) status early in December 2012. In these past two years, we have developed a board of directors, grew in our knowledge of non-profit management and developing staff whose expertise fit the unique needs of our work and mission.
Although ArtVan has been working in our core communities for ten years total, we only received our 501c3 charitable status less than two years ago; as a result, our connection with the community is deep, but in terms of organizational management, we are still in our infancy. We have our first full time Operations Manager and, within the past few years, welcomed a Teaching Artist, meaning that we are now a staff of three. Our current priorities are to build for the future through investment in strategic planning efforts, general capacity building and creating financial stability; continuing support through grants and community mobilization will be key to ensure a strong, transparent and forward-looking organization.